Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other so-called high-value detainees accused of plotting the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people will be tried in a federal court in New York, the scene of the crime, Attorney General Eric Holder announced today.
"They will be brought to New York City in a courthouse just blocks from where the twin towers once stood," said Holder, who added that he will direct prosecutors to seek the death penalty for the men. "These were extraordinary crimes, and so we will seek maximum penalties."
Holder said of the attacks on 9/11 and the USS Cole, "Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in those attacks. And in the years since, our nation has had no higher priority than bringing those who planned and plotted the attacks to justice."
The detainees could be transferred from Guantanamo Bay within 45 days, once Congress is formally notified, which is expected to be today.
President Barack Obama today addressed the prosecution at a joint news conference in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.
"This is a prosecutorial decision as well as a national security decision," the president said. "Here's the thing that I will say: I'm absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheik Mohammed will be subject to the most exacting demands of justice. The American people insist on it. My administration will insist on it."
One line of thinking is that trying the suspected terrorists in federal court -- rather than using military commissions -- would send a powerful message to the international community and undo some of the damage the Guantanamo Bay detention camp has done to the U.S. image abroad.
The primary message would be that the United States can use its traditional federal court to try, convict and execute the people who devised the deadliest terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil. New York was the "sentimental favorite," one source told ABC News.
Putting these "ultra high-threat detainees," as the source called them, on trial in a major urban area, especially New York City, is likely to grab international headlines.
The FBI deployed a special team of agents to pull together evidence against the suspects, making sure it contained no information gained from controversial interrogation tactics, ABC News has learned.
After the fate of these individuals is determined, the government will move to lay out its plans for the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, although the president's deadline to shut down the facility by January will almost certainly not be met.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has represented the men, praised the decision to charge them in federal court instead of continuing to use the military commissions that were initially launched during the Bush administration.
"The transfer of cases to federal court is a huge victory for restoring due process and the rule of law, as well as repairing America's international standing, an essential part of ensuring our national security, " ACLU director Anthony D. Romero said.
The five men include Mohammed, as well as Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarek Bin 'Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi.
Even before the news that the Obama administration will try some of the Guantanamo Bay detainees in U.S. federal courts, opponents of the plan were ratcheting up their criticism.